James Salter's "A Sport and a Pastime"
July 31, 2012 7:04 PM   Subscribe

James Salter's A Sport and a Pastime is one of those very rare novels that seems not so much to have been written as discovered. At its heart is a love story, an encounter, that transforms its relatively ordinary protagonists into beings around whom the entire cosmos shapes itself. The love story is delicate and ephemeral, put together out of bits and pieces, like a bird's nest. The vulnerable lovers tremble, in the most mundane circumstances, on the edge of catastrophe. Simply the way one of them moves across the room to meet the other seems miraculous and hazardous. Were they to become aware of themselves everything would be lost. But there is no danger of that. Oblivious, they tiptoe on a precipice. They do not and cannot know that their innocence cloaks them in a kind of divinity and infallibility. Actions and attitudes we expect to bring them down don't. They do things that seem so perfect, so poignant, without knowing they are doing anything at all. They arc beautifully across our path, and then vanish. - Michael Doliner (previously)

"Somewhere," James Salter once wrote, "the ancient clerks, amid stacks of faint interest to them, are sorting literary reputations. The work goes on endlessly and without haste. There are names passed over and names revered, names of heroes and of those long thought to be, names of every sort and level of importance." Salter was writing about his friend Irwin Shaw, whose name, once renowned, has slipped quietly from the first rank. Where will the tireless, indifferent clerks file the name James Salter? His readers, few in number but adamant in their conviction that he is a great writer, are confident that the author of "A Sport and a Pastime" and "Dusk: And Other Stories," the collection that won him the 1988 PEN/Faulkner Award (perhaps this country's most prestigious literary prize), will eventually take his place in the canon of American literature. - The New York Times
posted by Egg Shen (8 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I want to read Michael Doliner's novel.
posted by Golden Eternity at 7:51 PM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is a great novel, and Salter is a great novelist. It really is a measure of how fabulous a publisher Jack Shoemaker is. The roster at Northpoint Press when it was his, and then at Counterpoint, and Shoemaker and Hoard, was amazing. Salter, Giono, MFK Fisher, Gina Berriault, Evan Connell, Guy Davenport, Gary Nabhan. You would not go far wrong spending a year reading Northpoint's list.
posted by OmieWise at 1:07 AM on August 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

It certainly has a lot of, y'know, description.
posted by unSane at 4:54 AM on August 1, 2012

I enjoy Salter's work. That said, the NY Times cited suggests that he will someday take his place in the canon of Am lit...that was written in 1990, and to the best of my knowledge his work has not been compiled in the The Library of America, other than a brief piece by him in

Into the Blue: American Writing on Aviation and Spaceflight
posted by Postroad at 7:56 AM on August 1, 2012

I really liked this book but I'm not totally on board with the Salter cult. I couldn't get into the next novel of his I tried (Solo Faces), although I'm planning to give it another shot. He seems like a little too much of a "writer's writer" to make it into the canon, especially compared to Irwin Shaw.
posted by pete_22 at 8:29 AM on August 1, 2012

"Do you want to read?"

Best line in the novel.
posted by Rash at 8:44 AM on August 1, 2012

I couldn't get into the next novel of his I tried (Solo Faces), although I'm planning to give it another shot.

I've never read Solo Faces, but I loved his first novel about fighter pilots in the Korean War, The Hunters. I don't see it get as much love as some of his later work.
posted by OmieWise at 8:49 AM on August 1, 2012

James Salter is my favorite writer of all time. I gave all my books away (several meters of books) when I moved last time (could have filled a small library with the books, but I gave them all to a friend)) - except my Salter books. Those I brought with me.

Just two or three sentences from "A sport a and a past time" made me want to travel to France more than any modern commercial or travel guide ever did.
posted by rpn at 5:29 PM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

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